Mongolian food has no nuance, no subtlety, no balance of flavours. The flavours are salt, sugar and fat. The meat (and there is always meat) comes in slabs or ground. The potatoes come in bulk, and the greens are a nominal, and soggy optional afterthought. There’s a strong emphasis on filling you up; food as fuel, rather than as a creative expression, an art form or an opportunity to experiment with many and varied flavours and textures.
The average Mongolian, we’ve observed, is what you might call portly. The upside is that westerners can buy jocks that fit! The padding is essential in winter, when it get down to -45. Although there’s a lot of soft drink being drunk everywhere too. I wonder how many people have type 2 diabetes here? And bad tooth decay?
What nice things can I say about Mongolian food? Well, we have a number of times in the last 5 years all eaten according to the FAILSAFE diet. That is, food free of additives, low in salicylates, amines and flavour enhancers. The Mongolian diet is the most failsafe we’ve encountered. For example, this soup is mostly meat, potatoes and broth, with a skerik of carrot, and salt but no pepper.
Our breakfast today was salty rice pudding, the kids milked the cows yesterday and this was made with the milk they brought back. This is completely failsafe.
I think almost everything we’ve eaten could be made with the following few ingredients.
- and the occasional cucumber
Ummm, that’s it. Its a far cry from the myriad spices I always have on hand at home, and enough ingredients to whip up something Middle Eastern, something Thai or something Italian, all without a trip to the shop.
I like variety. I have experienced the kind of hunger that gnaws at your stomach and refuses to let you think about anything else for a second. I have felt hunger for filling up. I have felt hunger for calories, and now I think I’m feeling hunger for variety.
The other positive of the Mongolian diet is that it is so high in carbs. I love my carbs, I think I ate 6 weetbix every breakfast my whole childhood, and another 4 after school. So, heaps of bread, rice, potatoes and pasta is carby-comforting food. Just don’t come here if you’re diabetic!
So much for the positives.
Ultimately the Mongolian diet doesn’t appeal at all. Nothing has any flavour, and every mouthful has gross grissly bits. Stuff is served warmish, and the fat solidifies on your teeth. Hot tea is to warm you up, and to dissolve the fat stuck in your mouth. Yuck. When we get back to China, we’ll be going to our favourite sichuan place and ordering something spicy, and a plateful of steamed broccoli!
In the meantime, as I’m sitting around eating the unpalatable, I telling myself this is an opportunity to identify with most of the people in the world who have neither variety nor quantity, and to be grateful.
But, we didn’t come here for the food.
And in the words of another well-travelled Australian, Mick Dundee, ‘you can eat it, but it tastes like sh*t!!’